The Turkish military snaps
This photograph, taken on August 28, 2010, shows the Turkish Chief of Staff General Isik Kosaner during a military ceremony in Ankara. General Isik Kosaner stepped down on July 29, 2011, and the entire military command have resigned in a row with the government over promotions for generals held in an alleged anti-government plot, Turkish media reported. (Getty Images)
July 29th, 2011
01:48 PM ET

The Turkish military snaps

Editor's Note: Soner Cagaptay is Director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a Visiting Professor at Georgetown University. He is the co-author, with Scott Carpenter, of Regenerating the U.S.-Turkey Partnership.

By Soner Cagaptay - Special to CNN

Today’s news of the mass resignation of Turkey’s Chief of Staff, General Isik Kosaner and the force commanders is a sign that the Turkish military, the second largest force in NATO, is snapping under the weight of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Since the AKP came to power in Ankara in 2002,  civilian-military relations between the governing party, a coalition of conservatives, reformed Islamists and Islamists, and the military, a bastion of secularism, have been tense.  But thus far, the military leadership has remained diplomatic, choosing not to confront the government.  Yet, with so many top commanders of the Turkish military resigning at once today, this is no longer the case.

This had been coming: The military and the AKP never saw eye to eye on many issues, the most important of which was the firewall between religion, piety, and politics.  So far, the AKP has enjoyed the upper hand: In 2007, the AKP authorities launched a court case, known as Ergenekon, which alleged a coup plot against the government and accused the military of involvement.

Four years and hundreds of arrests later, the case has yet to reach a verdict.  Yet, the Turkish military has born the brunt of these arrests.  Around half of all Turkish naval admirals have been jailed.  Moreover, because all of the air force’s four star generals have been implicated, it was not certain that Turkey’s military promotions board would even have a four-star general to promote to Chief of Air Force during its annual meeting in August.  Consequently, the ironic joke in Ankara has become, “Thank God Greece is in an economic meltdown; otherwise, this would be the perfect time to invade Turkey!”

And now the military has snapped.  The straw that broke the camel’s back came earlier this week, when pro-AKP media suggested that 14 active duty generals and admirals who had been arrested in relationship to the Ergenekon case, though not yet indicted, would not only be bypassed in their promotions, but also forced to resign.  Furthermore, only yesterday, the police arrested 22 additional top brass officers, blocking their likely promotion.

For the first time in its life, the Turkish military is like a deer in headlights, facing the political high beams of the Ergenekon case.

Historically the most-respected institution in the country and the kingmaker in Ankara, the military has seen its prestige and power free-fall since the AKP took power in 2002.  Coup allegations, including assertions that the military was planning to bomb Istanbul’s historic mosques to precipitate a political crisis, have hurt the Turkish army’s standing.  The military’s status as the most trusted institution in the country is plummeting: in 2002, around 90 percent of the Turks said they trusted their military, while now most polls show that barely 60 percent say they do.

What is more, with dozens of generals and hundreds of other officers in jail for years with coup allegations, with no indictment in sight, the officer corps is demoralized.  This is the Turkish military leadership’s way of telling the government: “We are done playing with you.  Set up your own team – if you can.”

The dilemma for the AKP is that this may not be possible.  Turkish military officers all undergo the same training, with the same discipline and commitment to secularism and the subsequent opposition to the AKP.  It will be difficult for the AKP to find pro-AKP officials in the military’s top ranks.

This leaves Turkey with two options: Operate with a headless military, a risk in a country flanked by Iran, Iraq and Syria, the last of which is undergoing revolutionary turmoil right on the other side of a 500 mile-long border; or fashion an agreement between the AKP and the military to turn the high beams of the Ergenekon case off.

Turkey’s moment of reckoning, delayed since 2002, seems to have arrived.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Soner Cagaptay.

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Topics: Military • Politics • Turkey

soundoff (45 Responses)
  1. Onesmallvoice

    It seems like no matter who rules in Turkey, they are just too bull-headed to grant the Kurds the independence they deserve and therein lies the tragedy. I say withhold foreign aid money from that country until the Turks come across and reconsider their iron grip on Kurdistan!

    July 29, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      What are you talking about "withhold foreign aid money from that country"?
      Turkey doesn't need any aid from the U.S. nor the other way round!
      The Turkish military is playing a game with the civl government. “We are done playing with you. Set up your own team – if you can.” The military still has vast support in the country and in light of the political turmoil in Syria, the AKP in the government would have to negociate with its secular opponents.

      July 29, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Reply
      • Dave Levinson

        @ j. von hettlingen,
        Turkey is not in good shape. its trade deficit is soaring, it can't sell goods abroad. The military is not well liked. As far as their chiefs of staff, they have meddled in politics for quite a long time, manufacturing crises with neighbors, and internally, to maintain their corruption. There are something like 340 generals in Turkey (wow), so a dozen greedy whiners who got their channel to graft and bribes cut won't be missed.

        July 29, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
      • BGkaya

        Dave, what the hell do you know about Turkey? Clueless idiot!

        July 30, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • BGkaya

      Kurds? Your place is next to Armenians. Make a cute couple.

      July 30, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Reply
      • Diana

        BGkaya,
        you are ignorant,chauvinistic Nazi , and your place is next to Hitler. Turks did genocide to Armenians and Kurds and sooner or later the world will recognize the evil.

        July 30, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • pelin

      Dear Onesmallvoice TURKs are magnanimous people, please do not think only KURD s are stepping out and pretending they like to negotiate with TURK, we been trying but there are no solution at the moment because when ever EUROPE will continue to support KURDISH rebel group (for europe rebel for us terrorist) this will issue never and up

      July 31, 2011 at 1:24 am | Reply
    • Maurice

      Giving Kurds their "Kurdistan" is such a nice happy hippie sounding thing to do coming from the left, but coming from the right......WAKE UP! What sovereign nation is going to just cede a good mineral rich part of its integral territory to a minority group just because of a bunch of "poor oppressed people who deserve their independence". Those who fight for what they want and can take it and hold it – DESERVE it, plain and simple. Remember we are humans who have an alpha male/female pack mentality. We aren't a communal species like ants. In the REAL world, humans hold on to valuable land, and the ones who rule over it are the most powerful tribe/clan/ethnic group. Humans don't just cede it without literally being forced to – internally or externally; but they do take it, as in the case of China and Tibet. Besides how many other countries over their have bits and pieces of the so-called "Kurdistan" in them? Are they ALL supposed to just give up what the minority kurds say is "theirs"?

      August 1, 2011 at 12:59 am | Reply
    • gok

      Get a life

      August 2, 2011 at 10:03 pm | Reply
  2. TowelHeadsAreMorons

    As Sunni as I take a Sheite, I flush the Kurd down the toilet.

    July 29, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Reply
    • Sanity

      Now that sounds like something any two-bit Republican would say. Like Onesmallvoice, I too would love to see the Kurds gain their own homeland as they have evey right to do so. But the right-wing thugs in Washington, unfortunately, won't hear of it as that will put no money in their pockets!!!

      July 29, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Reply
      • gok

        Washington? lol idiot.,

        August 2, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  3. ndogg111

    Well, on their way to an Irag or Iran. Way to go, Islamic extremists. This was once one of our best allies, no more. The secular gov't that once everyone wanted there is not existant and will probably never come back. This is the way the middle east will all be very soon, and yes we need to get involved and help otherwise it will just keep getting more and more conservative. And more and more like Iran and Iraq.....

    July 29, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Reply
    • Sanity

      This is very good news,if true ndogg111. I'd like nothing better than to see NATO get booted out of the Middle East where they belong, the pigs!!!!!

      July 31, 2011 at 4:32 am | Reply
    • gok

      Turkey is becoming like Iraq? Dont you need to Invade Turkey and kill and maim a few hundred thousand civilians to make Turkey more like Iraq?

      August 2, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Reply
  4. Anonymous

    "Operate with a headless military".?? Come on.. Quite a demagogy here!

    Although some may be pro-coup d'état, there would be many pro-democracy ones among some three hundred generals of the Turkish army.

    July 29, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Reply
  5. Sell Arslan

    I think, the sound is a well. Ottoman's coming soon...

    July 29, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Reply
    • gok

      what?

      August 2, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Reply
  6. Bora

    please CNN give me a break! Soner Cagaptay? is this best you can do? Mr. Cagaptay has been very well-known to most Turks with his hidden agenda and extremely one-sided way of looking into the matters in Turkey, which are apparent from his article as well as all of his former articles. Mr. Cagaptay is a joke at best and someone who is cooperating with nondemocratic forces in Turkey at worst. Please try to get a higher-quality author next time who is neutral. Mr. Cagaptay is so popular among neo-cons due to his extreme anti-AKP stand. He never backs his ideas with facts. Dont worry CNN readers, things are finally becoming democratic in Turkey, there is no crisis whatsoever... just ignore the autho. and CNN, please dont make me ignore you by wasting your space with people like Mr. Cagaptay!!!

    July 30, 2011 at 1:04 am | Reply
    • Me

      Bora, you know you are full of it, you AKP bigot!

      July 30, 2011 at 1:30 am | Reply
      • Minten

        you mean like you are full of it with the Ergenekon BS?

        get a life, get over it

        July 30, 2011 at 4:51 am |
  7. Minten

    This is all good for Turkish democracy. Civilians should rule over military in any decent democracy, and Turkey can not remain an exception!

    July 30, 2011 at 4:52 am | Reply
    • Me

      Ergenekon is a bogus trial with false evidence doctored by police and prosecutors and tried by justices all now controlled by AKP/ Turkey is ruled by a mob that justifies its illegal and unethical actions with their "righteous crusade" against Ataturk and a secular democratic republic. In such, they are just tools being used in someone else's game. But Turkey is no democracy. With no separation of powers, AKP is in full control. Its now a theocracy at best.

      July 30, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Reply
    • gok

      Only problem is that Turks are an army Nation.......

      August 2, 2011 at 10:10 pm | Reply
  8. mehmet

    ı live turkey we are happy becouse turkish military generals officer is enemy of the democracy .becouse that generals like qadafi like mübarek ..get lost despotic generals from my country ..ı love turkey with high democracy

    July 30, 2011 at 8:15 am | Reply
  9. Toppolina

    About time the military in Turkey goes back to its barracks. Since Ataturk came to power and changed Turkey they have ruled with an iron fist. Turkey is now enjoying wealth and prosperity under the Gul/Ardogan rule. They have moved it to the 21st century swiftly and peacefully. Hopefully they will never turn to an Islamist country, just a secular Muslim country is what the Turks and the whole world would want.

    July 30, 2011 at 9:41 am | Reply
  10. BGkaya

    One small voice, you are a waste of oxygen.

    July 30, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Reply
  11. Greg

    This is divine retribution for Turks selling out the Jews. Let 'em rot and descend into secular vs fundamentalist civil war. Kiss admission to the EU goodbye.

    July 30, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Reply
  12. Aytac from Turkey

    Cagaptay works for neocon zionist outfits; his articles and opinons are not worth the bandwidth. What has CNN come down to??

    July 30, 2011 at 9:17 pm | Reply
  13. Humanist

    in the article, there is something right and something wrong as well. in the past, military in Turkey overthrew governments 3-4 times and still they think they are the guardian and protector of the turkey. if they decide turkey is in danger, they even can overthrow the government without considering complex results or consequences! there is something certain that the military has been opponent to democracy... their ideology come before human rights!!! so this resignations are signals of improvement of democracy... this writer probably gets these information only from opposition party supporter! turkish nationalists and racists, don't distort the facts...

    July 30, 2011 at 11:01 pm | Reply
  14. Humanist

    Soner Cagatay denen kisi... yani bir insan ulkesini yabancilara bu kadar rezil eder ve olaylari carpitir! askerlerin neden tutuklandiklarini ve gecmiste kac defa darbe yapildigini da anlatsana... 13 tane askerin her zamanki gibi pisi pisine oldurulmesinin de bir neden oldugunu anlatsana... kotule kotule ulkeni! burda parti taraftarligi yapilmiyor, ulkeni dunyaya rezil ediyorsun... sirf "hukumet in cogunlugu" ve "halk" senin gorusunde degil diye! bir gercek varki demokrasi gelisiyor ulkemizde! gecmiste olsa, sirf bencil egolari icin o komutanlar hukumeti devirip darbe yapar, sonra 5-10 bin adami asar, ve sacmalik bir anayasa yaparlardi. istediginiz bu mu? darbeden bahsediyoruz burda, oyun oynanmiyor...

    July 30, 2011 at 11:08 pm | Reply
    • Me

      Sen once gecmisini dogru ogren. Sonra Turkiye'de yapilanlari anlayacak analitik dusunce kapasitesine kendini bir eristir. Ondan sonra konusuruz. ABDde senin gibi yarim kafayla dusunenler Bush'u 2 defa basa getirdi.

      July 31, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Reply
  15. Ido

    The new Turkey- cant everyone see that turkey is in danger of becoming a more islamic? wake up you idiots. I have friends who left turkey , what they experienced lately is that more turks including secular are going back to islam. the problem with this is that it will influence national and international policy over a period of time. also, the way way turkey handles the kurds is far worse than whats going on in israel. in israel its hamas that is the danger and make gazans (palestinianan) suffer. in turkey , irs different. i love turks, but they are becoming fundamentalits by the day.....

    July 31, 2011 at 4:29 am | Reply
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    July 31, 2011 at 8:16 am | Reply
  17. RM

    Every time Hillary visits a country...problems arise soon thereafter. Kiss of death.

    July 31, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Reply
  18. Cyp

    Turkey will never be a democratic country. One fundamental necessity for a properly functioning democracy is the rule of law. Turkey do not have a rule of law in the sense that judiciary is not and has never been free of politics. And top that they are trying to judge with very badly designed laws that are against many democratic principles. So we have a system where judiciary which is controlled by politicians trying to apply anti-democratic laws. This was the case when generals were calling the shots behind the curtains in pre-AKP governments and it is still the case which Islamist calling the shots in AKP governments.

    So sadly the choice for Turks is between autocratic mildly fascist military ruling behind the charade of democracy, or autocratic conservative/Islamist bigots ruling behind the charade of democracy.

    And lets face it Turkey has never been a truly secular (which is another fundamental necessity for democracy) country even under the disguised military rule of pre-AKP. In which secular democracy government pays the wages of thousands of clerics from tax dollars. All AKP is trying to do break the fake-secularism and replace it with anti-secularism. The system has been set up badly from the start.

    August 1, 2011 at 1:42 am | Reply
  19. rudidierick

    In a democratic state of law, one cannot just accuse persons and lock them up for many years, without bringing convincing proof before the court. But that's just what the AKP is doing: just arrest military and lock them up. But so far, it has shown totally incapable of providing any proof, not to say sufficient proof for condemnations.

    Another heavy indication that Turkey is np democratic state, hence not capable of fulfilling the requirements for EU admission. And the longer it takes to bring tall those military effectively before the courts, the weaker its claims.

    August 1, 2011 at 9:19 am | Reply
  20. jbm

    Mustafa Kemal Attaturk must be turning over in his grave right now...

    August 1, 2011 at 10:11 am | Reply
  21. gok

    wish hed get his A ss up and hang Erdogan.

    August 2, 2011 at 10:14 pm | Reply
    • Me

      No need to hang anyone. Just prosecute him to the full extent of the law for rigging bids that should land him in jail for a few life sentences. Seize his assets, seize his friends and families assets and return them to the people. They became billionaires overnight picking & selling government owned assets.

      August 2, 2011 at 10:38 pm | Reply
  22. DENOEVRM

    turks and kurds villager want devolop peace for turkey.pkk isn 't representer of kurd people.pkk is terrorist group

    August 3, 2011 at 9:44 am | Reply

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